Most of us probably go through our lives amazed at how wrong other people’s beliefs are. We’ll even sometimes try to change their mind and prove that we’re right and they are wrong. Most of the time though, we’ll meet stubborn resistance and others will defend their viewpoints ardently, even denying a multitude of points based on logic. In the end, we’ll probably give up, or agree to disagree as the friendship hangs on a thread.
Adam Grant, the Wharton psychologist who wrote Think Again asks us: Why are we so laser-focused on changing other people’s minds when ours is set in stone? How can we expect others to be convinced of our arguments when we show no willingness to consider theirs? How sure are we really that we’re ‘right’?
What usually happens when we form a belief or opinion is that we have pride and conviction in it. We then allow it to become part of our identity – the belief becomes rigid, to the point that we distort our reality to only see what we want and expect to see so that it confirms the belief. Especially in today’s algorithm culture, it’s easy to get stuck in filter bubbles and echo chambers where the only stimuli that surround us are the ones that reinforce existing beliefs.
Grant shows that we form three different archetypes while arguing our own beliefs and opinions: the preacher, the prosecutor, and the politician. The preacher requires no proof for their idea and delivers sermons on his ideals; the prosecutor relies on flaws in the other individual’s reasoning and tries to prove them wrong and win their case; the politician campaigns for the approval of the audience and attacks the character of his opponents.
Grant invites us to think more like scientists – people who are willing to find out where they may be wrong, in the search of truth. They allow peers to attack their ideas to see if they can uncover blind spots in their thinking and their experiments. They have the humility to doubt their beliefs and they are careful not to become too attached to their beliefs. They have the mindset of curiosity and discovery – they’re happy to find out that they’re wrong because now it means that they’re less wrong than before.
Try to know what you don’t know. Dare to disagree with your own arguments. Too often we favor feeling right over actually being right. Our calcified ideologies are tearing us apart, and we banish other people purely for their beliefs without understanding how they got them in the first place, and in the scary possibility that: We might actually be the one who is wrong.